The 34th Ward Alderman Race: Newcomers vie for a seat in a redistricted ward covering neighborhoods in the Loop, West Loop, Near West Side, and Greektown.
The 34th Ward Alderman Race
In the 34th Ward, which covers neighborhoods in the Loop, West Loop, Near West Side and Greektown, two political newcomers are locked in a one-on-one race. The incumbent, Carrie Austin, faces federal fraud charges and won’t run for re-election.
Jim Ascot has a background as a mental health therapist and is running on a platform of governing with compassion. Bill Conway is a real estate broker who supports progressive labor unions.
Every decade, Chicago aldermen redistrict ward boundaries to reflect population shifts revealed by the latest decennial census. This year, the 34th Ward shifted from the Far South Side to the booming area south and west of the Loop.
The new ward includes a section of LaSalle Street included in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to give the financial district a makeover, including incentives for developers to convert vacant offices into apartments and condos. Both Villegas and Conway say they would work with businesses, developers and residents to support growth in their neighborhoods.
But the real issue at hand is a City Council process that’s become infamous for its secrecy. The City’s 50 wards are currently redrawn in absolute secret by a backroom committee that’s not accountable to the public. WBEZ is calling on the candidates to honor their campaign promises and support The People’s Map, which was created openly after 41 trainings, hearings and meetings with community members from across the city.
Near West Side
Despite Chicago’s ward system being officially nonpartisan, aldermen have long had de facto political affiliations based on their borough and the neighborhood they represent. This year, as a result of a new City Council map, the 34th Ward is shifting from the Far South Side to the Near West Side.
Previously, the 34th Ward included parts of Beverly Point, Morgan Park, Washington Heights and Roseland. It was moved because indicted alderwoman Carrie Austin declined to run for reelection as she faces federal corruption charges.
The new 34th Ward includes the Near West Side, Fulton Market and Greektown communities. Democrat Bill Conway and Republican Jim Ascot are running for the seat.
As they campaign, both men are discussing development in the area, particularly Downtown’s future along LaSalle Street as the City attempts to rebound from COVID-19. Altgeld Gardens resident Cheryl Johnson said she didn’t find out her ward had moved until a Crusader reporter reached out to her.
This ward encompasses the historic Douglas neighborhood and the western edge of the Loop, where major developments such as Oprah’s Harpo Studios and Google’s Chicago headquarters have brought trendy, upscale amenities and higher rent that has pushed out low-income residents. Both candidates are focused on development and how to address its impact, with Wills calling for a new “compassionate approach” and Ascot stressing the need to ensure a “fair share of affordable housing” in the area.
This ward was completely redistricted last year, moving from the Far South Side to the booming West Loop and Greektown. Incumbent Ald. Carrie Austin isn’t running again, describing her decision as a “sacrifice” to help her Black Caucus during the city’s contentious redrawing process. Her decision created a one-on-one race between former state’s attorney candidate Bill Conway and real estate developer Jim Ascot. Both candidates are new to politics, but Ascot has a history of service spanning his career as a crisis counselor and social worker.
After more than 100 single migrant men moved into the Parthenon Hostel in Greektown on Friday and nearly 90 more migrants moved in on Saturday, many residents say it’s time for the city to collaborate with community members on a longer-term solution. But the 34th Ward alderman says he’s been “taken by surprise” with how little collaboration there has been so far.
Bill Conway won the race to become the city’s next alderman of the newly-drawn 34th Ward. The ward covers Downtown, the West Loop and parts of Greektown, Fulton Market and the University of Illinois at Chicago. It used to be on the Far South Side and largely Black, but it was redrawn after indicted alderman Carrie Austin stepped down while facing federal bribery charges. That shifted it into a more predominantly white district. Commercial real estate broker Jim Ascot and Navy veteran and former prosecutor Bill Conway were vying to replace her.